Sensex tops 59k

The unabated rally in the stock market that’s continuing for about one and half years now, on Thursday took India past France in terms of market capitalisation. The day also saw the sensex rally past the 59k mark for the first time. It closed at 59,141 points, up 418 points on the day.

The recent rally has taken India’s market capitalisation to $3.44 trillion, ahead of France’s $3.39 trillion and within touching distance of fifth-placed UK which has a market cap of $3.7 trillion, Bloomberg data showed. The top four slots in this league table are occupied by the US ($51tn), China ($12.4tn), Japan ($7.4tn) and Hong Kong ($6.4tn).

In the last one month, India’s market cap has risen by about $300 billion or about Rs 22 lakh crore. In local currency, now India’s market cap is at Rs 263 lakh crore.

Govt sets up NARCL

The government on Thursday announced the setting up of the National Asset Reconstruction Company, which will take over bad debt of nearly Rs 2 lakh crore from banks, and promised to provide backup guarantee of over Rs 30,600 crore to the entity.

Under the plan cleared by the Union Cabinet, the NARCL will acquire the impaired assets from lenders, and India Debt Resolution Company, which will be a service company majority owned by private sector banks and institutions, will manage the asset and seek to add value, wherever needed.

NARCL, or the bad bank, will bid for the impaired assets from banks — with Rs 90,000 crore of the completely written down assets to be taken over first — and the other ARCs will compete through a Swiss challenge method.

Like in other such transactions, banks will be paid15% of the value of the impaired asset in cash, with the remaining coming in the form of security receipts. “Based on the estimates from the lenders, we have arrived at the value of guarantees, which will be valid for five years. It will be invoked at the time of resolution or liquidation and is meant to cover any shortfall between the face value of the SRs and the actual realisation,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

The FM said they were part of steps initiated by the Modi government to clean up the books of banks since it first came to power in 2014. She said that the steps have resulted in over Rs 5 lakh crore having been recovered by banks, with Rs 3.1 lakh crore coming back since March 2018. She also said that guarantees have been provided but may not necessarily be invoked.

Financial services secretary Debasish Panda said guarantees were the norm globally. “It will enhance the credibility of the process. Through the new ARC we are looking at aggregation of assets, quicker resolution, better valuation from the process and freeing up of bank officers from the recovery process, allowing them more time to deal with other issues,” Panda added.

“Going by historical average recovery performance of various assets either resolved or liquidated in last five years, from a debt pool of Rs 2 lakh crore, recovery of Rs 30,600 crore being guarantee amount, is most likely to be recovered in full on an aggregate basis. If upside is netted at aggregate pool level instead of shared for individual accounts with lenders, there is a possibility of no outgo from the government,” UV ARC director Hari Hara Mishra said.

Delhi: Grey Line Extension

On Saturday, the much-delayed extension of the Grey Line (Dwarka-Najafgarh) to Dhansa bus stand will be put into operation, making the Delhi Metro network 390 km long with 286 metro stations.

The 891-metre section, which will take the metro further into the interior of Najafgarh, will be jointly inaugurated by Union housing and urban affairs minister Hardeep Singh Puri and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on September 18 at12.30pm via video conferencing. Passenger services will commence at 5  pm that day.

The section was scheduled to be opened along with the ‘missing link’ of Pink Line (Majlis Park-Shiv Vihar) at Trilokpuri on August 6, but was deferred due to the restoration work on an approach road that had caved in on May 20. A large portion of the road near the under-construction Dhansa bus stand metro station had collapsed during heavy rainfall, damaging some nearby buildings. 

The Dwarka-Najafgarh section of the 5.4-km Grey Line opened in 2019 with three stations at Dwarka, Nangli and Najafgarh, while work remained to be completed on the extension to Dhansa bus stand.

The station is going to be Delhi Metro’s first ever below surface station to have an entire underground floor dedicated to parking. The parking facility will be integrated with the main station area and commuters will be able to leave their vehicles and proceed directly to the concourse using the elevators and escalators.

Gujarat: Clarion cull

In a political purge seen as BJP’s most audacious experiment yet, PM Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat on Thursday lived up to its reputation as the saffron party’s laboratory with a “no-repeat” government of 24 new faces, most of them freshers, replacing all 22 ministers from the erstwhile Vijay Rupani cabinet.

The tsunami of transformation capped a frenetic six days for the state, starting with Rupani’s sudden resignation as chief minister last Saturday and the even more surprising elevation of first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel to the top post in the state.

The writing was on the wall for Team Rupani on Wednesday given the no-repeat formula even as most of them spent the day trying to lobby with the state BJP leadership in a last-ditch attempt to save their places. While the swearing-in had to be postponed by a day amid murmurs of discontent, even that rare episode of discord in the party did not alter the central leadership’s resolve to prop up a new team of netas to lead Gujarat into the 2022 polls.

The overhaul is being bandied about as an attempt to wipe out any anti-incumbency sentiment after BJP’s more than two-decade stint in Gujarat. In trying to build BJP’s bulwark against the possibility of voter fatigue, veterans like former deputy CM Nitin Patel, Pradipsinh Jadeja, Saurabh Patel, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and Kaushik Patel — each with decades of experience in government — found themselves swept away by the sweeping tides of change.


Relief for Telcos

The government announced a four-year moratorium on adjusted gross revenue and spectrum payments, approved redefining AGR to exclude ‘non-telecom’ items and cut the spectrum usage charge to zero — both prospectively — as part of wide-ranging reforms to improve the health of the debt-laden sector and make sure the market has at least three private players. Telecom shares rose.

Other key decisions include giving operators the option to “pay the interest amount arising due to the said deferment of payment by way of equity,” the government said in a statement Wednesday. The Centre also has the option of converting operators’ dues owing to the deferred payment into equity at the end of the moratorium period, guidelines for which will be finalised by the ministry of finance.

The government also decided that carriers can henceforth use spectrum bought in auctions for 30 years instead of 20 years.

It allowed telcos to surrender unused airwaves after the first 10 years by paying a surrender value besides scrapping the 0.5% additional SUC that operators needed to pay for sharing frequencies. The government also reduced the quantum of bank guarantees that operators need to furnish to cover for their dues. It cut the interest rate on delayed licence fee and SUC payments to SBI’s marginal cost of funds based lending rate plus 2 percentage points from MCLR plus 4% while scrapping the penalty and interest on penalty components altogether.

To encourage overseas investments, the government allowed 100% FDI in the sector under the automatic route, compared with the 49% allowed now. This is subject to safeguards such as curbs on investments by companies based in countries that share a border with India, telecom minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said at a briefing after the cabinet meeting.

The package, while is meant for giving relief to an industry with more than Rs 8 lakh crore of debt, will specifically ease cash-strapped Vodafone Idea’s immediate cash flow woes and help it remain in a market that has Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel as the other two private players. State-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. is the fourth telco in India.

"Competition is extremely important for telecom industry to offer choice to customers," Vaishnaw said. "The reforms are to ensure healthy competition and attract new players... There will be further reforms when we auction 5G so that more players can enter the sector."

He said that the reform measures — applicable to the entire industry and not any particular company — are revenue neutral for the government. He added that telecom companies already going through the insolvency process will have to get clarity from the National Company Law Tribunal.

Shares of Vodafone Idea – a joint venture between the UK’s Vodafone Group PLC and India’s Aditya Birla Group — rose 7% intraday before closing 2.8% higher at Rs 8.93 on the BSE on Wednesday. Bharti Airtel jumped to its all-time high of ₹734.95, before closing at ₹725.55, up 4.5%. Shares of Reliance Industries, the parent of telecom market leader Jio, ended 0.5% up at Rs 2,378.95.

Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani said the decisions were "bold". Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal called the reforms "seminal". Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla said the steps were "pathbreaking" and will ensure the "healthy growth of the industry".

"Telecom sector is one of the prime movers of the economy," Ambani said. The "reforms and relief measures… will enable the industry to achieve the goals of Digital India."

Mittal said the steps will "ensure that the industry is able to invest fearlessly and support India’s digital ambitions."

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said the measures will support a competitive and sustainable telecom sector in India, and hoped that they will usher in a "new era" for India’s digital ambitions and for Vi’s "continued contribution to creating an inclusive and sustainable digital society".

More needs to be done toward a sustainable tariff regime to ensure the industry gets a fair return, said Gopal Vittal, MD and CEO, India and South Asia, Bharti Airtel.

Further, extending spectrum allotment for a period of 30 years and a calendar for spectrum auctions is also a positive for the industry.

Vodafone Idea hasn’t been able to complete its ₹25,000 crore fundraising plan, leading to the telco ceding ground rapidly to rivals Jio and Airtel. Birla had blamed the sector’s lack of viability as the chief reason.

India’s Growth Likely to be Fastest in 2022: UNCTAD

India’s economy is expected to grow the fastest, at 6.7%, in 2022, followed by China even though its growth will be faster in 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said on Wednesday. In its Trade and Development Report 2021, UNCTAD said that India’s economy is expected to grow 7.2% in 2021, the second highest in the world after China but the growth will slowdown to 6.7% in 2022.

It also said that the reluctance of other advanced economies to follow the lead of the US on the vaccine waiver is a worrying sign and a costly one. India’s growth comes amid a 5.3% projection for global growth, its fastest rate in nearly five decades. This is seen decelerating to 3.6% in 2022.

UNCTAD noted that a severe and broadly unanticipated second wave of the pandemic, compounded by bottlenecks in the vaccine roll out, hit the country in the second quarter, on top of rising food and general price inflation, forcing widespread lockdowns and drastic consumption and investment adjustments.

Going forward, assuming away a resurgence of the pandemic to the degree experienced in the second wave, it said private sector activity revitalisation, subject still to a slow recovery of jobs, is likely to be matched with a more adverse policy environment, especially on the fiscal front, and with continuing pressures on the trade balance.

“On these conditions, the economy is expected to decelerate to 6.7% growth in 2022,” it said.

Supporting the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement waiver proposal for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics at the World Trade Organization, UNCTAD said that this is “a necessary first step to enabling the local manufacture of vaccines” but it has been resisted by other advanced economies, whose defence of large corporate interests is causing new fissures in the global economy, based on access to vaccines and freedom of movement despite belated backing from the US.

TCS : 2nd Indian co to hit $200bn mcap

Tata Consultancy Services, the second-most valued company in India and the largest within the Tata Group, on Wednesday became the second domestic company to cross the $200-billion market capitalisation mark. Exactly a year ago, Reliance Industries was the first Indian company to cross that milestone and is currently at $215 billion.

In Wednesday’s market, TCS crossed the mark in midsession and closed just a tad off with a market value of $199.1 billion, official data showed. When TCS was listed in August 2004, it had an mcap of about $10 billion. It crossed the $50-billion market value in December 2010, $100 billion in April 2018 and $150 billion in December 2020.

In the global league table of most-valued software services companies, TCS now ranks behind Accenture, which has a market value of $218 billion but ahead of IBM ($123 billion).

During the day, the rally in TCS, which closed 1.8% higher, along with strong buying in Infosys, Bharti Airtel and ICICI Bank, lifted the sensex to a record close of 58,723 points, up 0.8%, or 476 points. On the NSE too, the Nifty index closed at a new life-high level of 17,519 points. The day’s rally also took total investors’ wealth to a new record high with BSE’s market capitalisation now at Rs 262.1 lakh crore, up from Rs 260 lakh crore on Tuesday.

Of India’s widest tunnel @Igatpuri....

Ahead of Engineers’ Day, on Tuesday, a workforce of 1,500 workers, led by over 150 engineers, added yet another feather in Maharashtra’s cap by completing the end-to-end connectivity of India’s widest and fourth longest tunnel at Kasara Ghat near Igatpuri on the Nashik highway in a record two years.

The daylighting of the 8km twin tunnels, each 17.5mwide, will help expedite completion of the 700km Mumbai-Nagpur Super Communication Expressway that aims to reduce travel time between the two cities to 8-9 hours from 14-15 now. Even the fastest train on the route takes 11 hours.

Once operational, the Rs 2,745-crore twin-tunnel project—called Package 14 that connects Tarangpada village in Nashik district and Vashala village in Thane district-—will cut travel time through Kasara Ghat to five minutes from 30-35 minutes.

Tunnel digging had started in September 2019. “Never in history, such a wide tunnel with 8km length has been completed in two years,” said MSRDC joint MD and PWD secretary Anil Kumar Gaikwad. Balance works include road laying and mechanical, electrical and plumbing works.

The designed driving speed of the tunnel is120km/hour and covers the gradient of 160m from near the hilltop close to Igatpuri to downhills near Vashala through the valley, said S G Paretkar, director and business unit head (hydro & underground works) for Afcons Infrastructure, which helmed the construction. Ahead of the tunnel are 60m-tall pillars to host a viaduct down the Sahyadri range, the landfall point towards Vashala. Instead of conventional vertical shafts, a low-cost inclined shaft of over 500m was built to take machinery underground to speed up digging work, a first for India, said Paretkar.

Five check dams were built to benefit villagers, said Sekhar Das, project manager for Afcons. Also a huge shed was constructed over the initial cut-and-cover tunnel portion to avoid rainwater from gushing inside.

Tatas, SpiceJet Promoter Bid for Air India

A subsidiary of Tata Sons, Talace Pvt Ltd, and SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh have officially bid for Air India, paving the way for the government to fully exit the loss-making national carrier.

The national carrier and its subsidiary Air India Express may have together been valued in the range of ₹15,000-20,000 crore by Tata. The valuation is a rough estimate of the assets (aircraft) owned by the beleaguered airline being sold by the government.

The board of Tata Sons had given a free hand to its chairman on the bid, mentioning a price range the group would be comfortable paying for the troubled carrier. “The bid is quite within that range mentioned,” an official aware of the matter said.

The government will sell 100% stake in Air India and its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express, and 50% in ground handling company Air India SATS.

“Financial bids for Air India disinvestment received by Transaction Adviser. Process now moves to the concluding stage,” Tuhin Kanta Pandey, secretary in the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management, tweeted on Wednesday.

The winning bid is likely to be announced before the end of this month and the government plans to transfer the airline by the end of this fiscal year.

Once the government announces the winner, Tata Sons (if it is shortlisted) is expected to create one holding company for all its aviation businesses, possibly under Talace.

“Talace has just put in the bid. Future plans will keep evolving. What the group is looking at in terms of valuations is just pureplay aircraft on the books of Air India and Air India Express, especially the ones owned by them,” the persons close to the bidding process said.

Talace was incorporated in August 2020 purely to make an official bid on behalf of Tata Sons, sources said.

Directors on the board of Talace include Eruch Noshir Kapadia, Saurabh Mahesh Agrawal and Nipun Aggarwal.

SpiceJet promoter Ajay Singh has also put in a bid in his personal capacity along with two other investors.

The government has finally succeeded in getting financial bids for Air India in its second attempt, as the first in 2018 did not elicit any interest because it had planned to retain 26% stake even after privatising the national carrier.

Air India will be transferred with a debt of ₹23,000 crore, while the rest of its debt will be transferred to government-owned Air India Asset Holdings, which will house the carrier’s assets like the Air India building in Mumbai, Airlines House in Delhi, 4 acres of land in Delhi’s Connaught Place and various housing societies in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities.


September rain cuts monsoon deficit to 5%

In its official update last Thursday, IMD had said monsoon’s withdrawal was unlikely till September 16 in view of a “deep depression” forming over the Bay of Bengal, which later moved inland from Odisha on Sunday (September 12). Now, another system is expected to sweep in through north Odisha this weekend (around September 18), bringing more rain into central and north India over subsequent days and further delaying monsoon's withdrawal.

This system expected to form over north Bay of Bengal would be the third circulation to invigorate the monsoon this month. In the first two weeks of September, India has received more than 30% surplus rain, halving the overall monsoon season deficit from 10% in late August to 5% till Tuesday.

The deep depression that had crossed Odisha on Sunday, currently lies over north Chhattisgarh as a depression. 

The active monsoon conditions this month, after August ended with a 24% deficit, coincide with the Madden Julian Oscillation moving into a position that's normally favourable to the Indian summer monsoon. MJO is an eastward travelling pulse of cloud and rain that impacts tropical weather systems across the globe.

Besides, active monsoon conditions over the northwest Pacific Ocean have also aided September rainfall. “Till August-end, no cyclone developed over that region for 41 days. As a result, we didn’t have any remnant system from the east coming over into the Bay of Bengal. This month, the situation has changed,” the IMD chief added.

Lower court pendency at record 4cr now

Pendency of cases in lower courts has soared to a new record, crossing the four-crore mark for the first time. On Tuesday, the total pending cases in district and subordinate courts stood at 4,00,25,060. It was 3.2 crore at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020.

In the three-tier judiciary, including in the Supreme Court and 25 high courts, the pendency of cases has significantly increased in the past one-and-a-half years, from 3.7 crore in March 2020 to 4.6 crore now — almost one crore cases were added during this period. The SC alone has 70,000 cases currently pending, which was 60,600 in March last year.

One of the reasons behind such a significant rise in pendency is the inability of the justice delivery system to adapt to the new challenges and swiftly migrate to the digital format and the e-courts system.

A software is now being used by every court to accept e-filing, e-pay of court fees, and issue of e-summons. Issues like video conferencing, broadband, high-speed internet connectivity and computerisation of courts have long been addressed.

After the outbreak of the Covid pandemic and the lockdown, there had been an initial hesitancy and reluctance from the Bar associations in several states who refused to accept e-courts and digital hearings. The higher judiciary, too, didn’t compel them or initiate full court proceedings even in state capitals where high-speed internet connectivity was not an issue.

The law ministry from time to time had been writing to the apex court and the high courts to make it compulsory for e-filing of petitions, payment of court fees electronically and issue of e-summons through e-mails. However, barring the commercial courts, these directions have not yet been made mandatory for other courts, including the high courts.

Pushing hard for implementing these judicial reforms, the law ministry, with the help of the e-committee of the SC, recently formed a subcommittee consisting of seven judges of high courts for drafting model e-registers which will replace manual ones. Another sub-committee comprising HC judges and domain experts has been formed by the e-committee to extend e-court benefits to three identified marginalised sections — women, the LGBTQIA+ community and persons with disabilities.

For several decades now, the courts have never been able to function at full strength given huge vacancies of judges. Against a sanctioned strength of 24,490 judges in district and subordinate courts, the current strength is 19,367. These courts continued to have more than 5,000 vacancies for at least a decade now. The 25 HCs with 465 vacant posts of judges is the worst in history.

WPI inflation rises to 11.4% in August

Wholesale inflation inched up marginally in August on the back of stubborn prices of fuel, power and light and manufactured products, highlighting the lurking price pressures. Economists said the RBI will maintain its status quo on interest rates in its October review.

Inflation, as measured by the wholesale price index, rose an annual 11.4% in August, slightly higher than the 11.2% in the previous month. It was 0.4% in August last year.

The WPI data comes close against retail inflation numbers, which showed it slowed to a 4-month low at 5.3% in August, lower than the previous month’s 5.6%. WPI inflation has remained in double digits for five consecutive months.

The DPIIT attributed the high rate of inflation in August primarily to rise in prices of non-food articles, mineral oils, crude petroleum and natural gas, manufactured products like basic metals, food products, textiles, chemicals and chemical products, etc, as compared to the corresponding month of previous year.

ISI-Dawood plot to target many cities foiled

Foiling a sinister plan hatched by Pakistan spy agency ISI and ‘D Company’ to carry out serial blasts and target killings across multiple cities, the Indian intelligence establishment and Delhi Police’s special cell have arrested six alleged terror operatives in an elaborate multi-state operation.

Delhi’s anti-terror unit chief, Pramod Kushwaha said that the police had recovered improvised explosive devices containing RDX, grenades, Beretta pistols and ammunition which had been stocked up for the attacks on large congregations during the upcoming festivals. Around 1 kg of RDX has been found till now.

Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees was directly coordinating execution of the plot and handling recruitment, finance, transport and other logistical aspects through his underworld channels. Two of the arrested men — Mohammad Osama from Delhi and Zeeshan from Prayagraj — were trained by the ISI and Pak military at Gioni in the Gwadar port area. Ibrahim’s henchmen first got them to Muscat and then took them to Pakistan via the sea route. They came under the scanner of agencies during this time.

The module had got multiple IEDs arranged from sources across the border and were at an advanced stage of execution when the agencies swooped down on them, thereby saving scores of lives.

The first to be arrested was the chief handler and D Company henchman, Jaan Mohammed Sheikh alias Sameer Kaliya (47), a resident of Social Nagar, Mumbai. He was nabbed from a running train in Kota, Rajasthan, while he was on his way to Delhi.

Jaan Mohammed Sheikh alias Sameer Kaliya led the teams to Mohammad Osama (22) alias Sami, from Jamia Nagar area of Delhi. Simultaneously, cops picked up another D Company associate and hawala dealer Moolchand (47), from Rae Bareilly in UP.

Jaan Mohammed Sheikh alias Sameer Kaliya led the teams to Mohammad Osama (22) alias Sami, a resident of Abu Fazal Enclave in Jamia Nagar area of Delhi. Simultaneously, cops picked up another D Company associate and hawala dealer Moolchand (47), a resident of Rae Bareilly in UP. Raids continued with the arrest of Zeeshan Qamar from Prayagraj and Mohammad Amir Javed from Lucknow. Mohammed Abu Bakar (23), a resident of Bahraich, was arrested from Sarai Kale Khan in Delhi.

Police commissioner Rakesh Asthana reviewed the operation on Tuesday noon. The operation was conducted by a crack team led by ACP Lalit Mohan Negi and Hriday Bhushan. According to the police, the arrested persons were tasked separately to execute different aspects of the terror plan. “The underworld operative, Sameer, a close contact of Anees Ibrahim, was tasked by a Pakistan-based person connected with underworld operatives hiding in Pakistan to ensure smooth delivery of IEDs, sophisticated weapons and grenades to different entities in India,” DCP Kushwaha said.

Osama and Zeeshan, who are Pakistan-trained terror operatives working under the instructions of ISI, were given the responsibility of conducting reconnaissance of suitable locations in Delhi and UP and place the IEDs, he added.

“The special cell of Delhi Police had received a reliable input from a central agency that a Pakistan-abetted and sponsored group of entities was planning to execute serial IED blasts in India. For this, the group has got multiple IEDs arranged from sources across the border and were at an advanced stage of preparation," DCP Kushwaha said in a statement. Their inputs, said cops, indicated that an Okhla-based entity was an important part of this module who had associates based in various parts of the country, including Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Jamnagar’s worst flood triggers deluge of woes

It’s pouring woes for thousands of villagers in Jamnagar and Rajkot districts as scenes of destruction caused by the unprecedented rainfall on Sunday and Monday were witnessed.

Broken roads, floating household items, damaged bridges and flattened farmlands bore testimony to the furious downpour that began on Sunday midnight and continued till Monday evening.

People were seen rummaging through water and sludge in hope of recovering some of the washed away valuables in several villages even as the district administration pressed in teams to dispose of water and dirt in the urban areas of Jamnagar and Rajkot cities.

The air was filled with unbearable stench of dampened garbage and dead animals in villages.

According to sources, at least 450 villages of Kalavad, Dhrol, Jodiya, Jamjodhpur and Jamnagar rural have suffered severe destruction that emerged after waters receded.

Chief minister Bhupendra Patel visited Dhuvav village, Mahaprabhuji Bethak area of Jamnagar city and a society on Lalpur Road and interacted with the locals.

Eighty four villages are without power as electricity poles collapsed and transformers damaged. In Jamnagar city, 1,124 people were shifted and 724 people rescued from low-lying areas, the CM said, adding around 10,000 food packets distributed.

Around 10-15 residential societies near Rangmati River bank on Kalavad Road in Jamnagar witnessed the same nightmare.

In Rajkot district, destruction has been reported in villages of Lodhika and Gondal talukas while internal roads. bridges and private properties have been battered.

Commuting became a nightmare on Kuvadva Road, Pedak Road, Chunaravad, Manhar Plot, Gondal Road, Raiyadhar, Sadhu Vasvani Road, Mavdi, Mota Mauva, Madhapar areas as majority of the roads were heavily damaged.

Rajkot Municipal Corporation teams were working overtime to clear waterlogging and sludge accumulated in houses in aereas located near Aji River bank. In Rajkot district, 145 villages were without electricity

HC cuts speed limit to 80kmph

Flagging overspeeding on highways, the Madras high court has quashed a central notification issued in 2018 that allowed increasing the speed limit of vehicles on expressways from 100km per hour to 120km per hour, and directed authorities to reduce the speed limit to 80km per hour as per an August 5, 2014, notification.

Blaming ‘overspeeding’ for most road accidents, a division bench of Justice N Kirubakaran (since retired) and Justice T V Thamilselvi refused to accept the stand taken by the Union government that the speed limit had been fixed by an expert committee considering improvement in infrastructure and better engine technology of vehicles.


Retired Odisha teacher turns 3 barren village roads green

Rama Chandra Sahu is a green crusader, and how!

The thick foliage on the three roads connecting his village Kangaon in Sohela block of Bargarh district of Odisha with nearby habitations bears testimony to the now retired teacher’s mission of 36 years.

Rama Mastre, as Sahu is fondly called in his locality, has not only been planting saplings along these roadsides, but also diligently waters them every morning, until they turn tall and stout.

He fetches water from a nearby pond, filling up several containers at a time, and cycles to each of those new saplings to water them, even till this day.

Years have passed by. The saplings, now taken root as giant and lush trees, have turned the once barren village roads into undulating green swathes, stretching for miles as far as the eye can see. But, at 77 years of age, Rama Mastre’s daily routine remains unchanged.

Vacceleration: 75cr shots given in India

India accomplished a major milestone in Covid vaccination of the population on Monday, with over 75 crore doses administered across the country so far.

Overall, nearly 44% of India’s population (nearly 130 crore) has received at least one dose, whereas around 14% has got both doses. Among the 18-plus population—for whom vaccines are currently available—over 60% of the estimated 94 crore adult population has now received at least one dose, whereas 19% is fully vaccinated.

With improved supplies, the pace of vaccination has increased, particularly since the last week of August. Daily average vaccinations have improved to over 74 lakh doses in September, as against 59 lakh in August. India has also administered more than one crore doses in a single day thrice since August 27. On Monday, 75.6 lakh doses were given till 10pm.

The highest single-day record so far is of administering 1.41 crore doses on August 31.

“Congratulations India! In the 75th year of Independence, the country has crossed the figure of 75 crore vaccinations,” Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya tweeted.

India’s feat was also appreciated by the global health community. The World Health Organisation lauded the country for accelerating Covid vaccination drive and achieving the 75-crore mark.

“WHO congratulates India for scaling up Covid-19 vaccination at an unprecedented pace. While it took 85 days to administer first 100 million doses, India reached 750 million doses from 650 million in just 13 days,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia, said in a statement.So far, the entire adult population in six states and Union territories — Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Ladakh and Lakshadweep — has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Ola rides all-woman trend at factory

Women finally seem to be getting a fairer deal when it comes to the shopfloor. As Ola Electric announced an “all-woman” 10,000-strong workforce at its upcoming two-wheeler factory in Chennai, this marks a growing trend where women are getting precedence even in critical and arduous manufacturing processes.

To have women in the factories, companies are making special arrangements and taking care to have a hospitable environment — right from separate toilets to having teams taking care of diversity issues, to ensuring adequate shift hours, and ensuring transport and logistics.

Bhavish Aggarwal, the cofounder of Ola, says that decision for an all-woman workforce will ensure inclusive workforce and provide economic opportunities for ladies.


Bhupendra Patel is new Gujarat CM

Senior BJP leader Bhupendra Patel was on Sunday elected the new Gujarat chief minister, replacing Vijay Rupani, who abruptly resigned on Saturday. The MLA from Ahmedabad’s Ghatlodia, Patel was earlier Chairman of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority.

Rupani, who on Saturday tendered his resignation, sought to dispel speculations about the reasons.

“I am a loyal soldier of the BJP and have resigned of my own accord. Nobody has asked me to do so. I will work to strengthen the organisation or whatever role the party leadership assigns me,” he told the reporters after tendering the resignation to Governor Acharya Devvrat.

The names of several leaders were doing rounds for the next chief minister of Gujarat. Some of the prominent names included Praful Patel, Gordhan Zadaphia, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya and Parshottam Rupala, and state BJP chief CR Patil.

Rupani took the state’s Chief Ministerial position on August 7, 2016, and represents Rajkot (West) in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly. The saffron party held a nine-day state-wide event in Gujarat, just last month celebrating five years of Rupani in office.

Assembly elections in the state are due by late 2022.


Mumbai: Sakinaka horror

The 30-year-old woman, who was raped and brutalized with rod, succumbed to her injuries following excessive bleeding at a civic hospital, triggering a furore among political parties.

“It’s a tragic end. She had suffered very severe internal injuries and has passed away,” Shiv Sena MLC Dr Manisha Kayande said. She said the victim has two minor daughters and appealed to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to consider compensation for them under the government schemes for women.

The incident, which took place early on Friday morning, sparked outrage all over the state with the National Commission for Women taking note on Saturday.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone X) Dr Maheshwar Reddy said that early Friday, the police got a call from a citizen informing of a brawl between a man and a woman. “The caller said that the man was thrashing the woman and requested to send help urgently. A police team rushed there in about 10 minutes and found the woman lying on a tempo with severe injuries and bleeding profusely,” Dr Reddy said. The police rushed her to Rajawadi Hospital, and in a crack operation, managed to nab the accused Mohan Chavan within hours of the incident. A police official said the attempt to murder charges slapped on the sole accused shall now be enhanced to murder and further investigations are on.

The incident provoked all-round condemnation from the Maha Vikas Aghadi allies Shiv Sena, NCP and the Opposition BJP. Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil assured that the accused would be meted out the most stringent punishment while BJP leader Chitra Wagh demanded to know the current status of the Shakti Act framed by the state government. 

Quad not Asian Nato: Foreign Minister

India and Australia held their first 2+2 ministerial dialogue, and while discussing Afghanistan, rejected China’s criticism of Quad as Asian Nato.

Rejecting China’s description of the Quad, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said it was important not to misrepresent reality and that the group is a platform for four countries to cooperate “for their benefit and for the benefit of the world”. “I think a term like Nato is very much a cold war term, looking back. I think Quad looks in the future, it reflects globalisation, it reflects the compulsions of countries to work together,” Jaishankar said, adding that Quad was focused on issues like vaccines, supply chains and education.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne supplemented Jaishankar saying, “Quad members are champions of ASEAN centrality, we actively engage in that ASEAN architecture. We are committed to supporting the practical implementation of the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific.”

“I can’t see any relationship between such issues and NATO or any other kind of organisations like that. So, I think it is important not to misrepresent what is the reality,” Jaishankar said.

In his remarks after the meeting, Jaishankar also said Afghanistan was a major subject of discussion and that the two sides had agreed it was important for the international community to unite in its approach, guided by the August 30 UNSC resolution that emphasised “most of all” the Taliban’s commitment to not allow the use of Afghan soil for terrorism, including from terrorists and terrorist groups designated under resolution 1267. But apart from that, as Jaishankar said in what was India’s first reaction to the ‘government’ formation in Kabul, there was a concern about the inclusiveness of the dispensation, concerns about the treatment of women and minorities, matters related to travel of Afghans, issues regarding humanitarian assistance. “So, it is an evolving situation,” he said.

Jaishankar was speaking at a joint press event after he and Defence Minister Rajath Singh held the inaugural dialogue here with their Australian counterparts Payne and Peter Dutton. Expressing similar sentiments on Quad, Payne said as Australia and India have re-energised relations, there was also the opportunity to work through smaller groups like the Quad and other pieces of regional architecture like the East Asia Summit or the ASEAN regional forum.

“We also say that we have a positive and practical agenda -- around vaccines, around climate, around critical technology also trying to address some of the dangerous misinformation that pervades the world experience in relation to the (Covid) pandemic,” the minissster said.

Referring to Quad, she said the constructive engagement in a normal diplomatic network was overwhelmingly about contributing positively for that “open, inclusive and resilient region in which we all want to live”.

Payne and Dutton also called on PM Narendra Modi for a meeting in which a number of issues were discussed.

Delhi records its wettest monsoon in 46 years

The National Capital recorded the wettest monsoon in the past 46 years this year. Safdarjung weather station, which logs the official readings for the capital, has already recorded 1,139.8mm of rainfall for this season till 5.30pm on Saturday. The record seasonal precipitation is 1,155.6mm rainfall in1975.

With India Meteorological Department issuing an orange alert for moderate rain for Sunday, the 1975 record looks likely to be overtaken. The normal average precipitation from June till September otherwise measures 653.6mm. The all-time record is1,420.3mm rainfall in1933.

Saturday’s was also the city’s highest rainfall on a September day in the past 77 years at 383.4mm rainfall till 5.30pm. The only time the city received more rainfall in a day in September was 417.3mm rainfall in 1944. The normal mark for the entire month of September is 125.1mm rainfall. In September 2020, Safdarjung had recorded only 20.9 mm rainfall.

RK Jenamani, senior scientist at IMD, said September this year has been “highly unusual.” He said, “In just 11 days, the rainfall is almost three times than the normal for the month. With 19 days still left, more records may be broken.”

Gujarat: CM Rupani resigns

In a major political development, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani tendered his resignation to Gujarat governor Acharya Devvrat at his residence, Raj Bhavan in Gandhinagar. The BJP leader confirmed that he has resigned from the top post.

“I am resigning from the post of the Chief Minister. I thank PM Modi and the party for giving me an opportunity to work for five years,” Vijay Rupani told the reporters at Raj Bhavan.

“I am just a worker of the organisation and will continue to be so. For the upcoming state Assembly elections, definitely our PM Modi will be the face,” Rupani said, when asked who will be the face for the elections, as he and the party earlier had declared that the 2022 elections will be led by him.

“I will accept whatever responsibility the party gives me,” said Rupani. Vijay Rupani took the state’s Chief Ministerial position on August 7, 2016, and is representing Rajkot West in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly. It is learnt from sources that the party will declare Rupani’s replacement by Sunday. Most likely his replacement could be deputy chief minister Nitin Patel.


Factory output up 11.5% in July

Industrial output grew 11.5% in July, helped by a low base effect, but several sectors such as manufacturing, mining, electricity and capital goods posted robust growth on easing of curbs after the second wave of Covid -19.

The sector had grown by 13.6% in June and during the April-July period it rose by 34.1% compared with a contraction of 29.3% in the same period last year.

The manufacturing sector grew an annual 10.5% in July compared with a contraction of 11.4% in the same month last year. The mining sector rose 19.5% during the month compared with a decline of 12.7% in July 2020, while the electricity sector grew by 11.1% compared with a contraction of 2.5% in the year earlier month.

The Covid-19 pandemic had inflicted a major blow to the industrial sector but the lifting of curbs has helped the recovery and economists expect the trend to persist.

“Amidst continued easing of favourable base support, the moderation was in line with expectations though the print is a tad above our forecast and market consensus. Nevertheless, sequential momentum in IIP remained at a strong level for the second consecutive month at 7.2% month-on-month in July 2021 (vs 5.7% in June 2021), underscoring the continued recovery in industrial activity...,” economic advisory firm QuantEco Research said in a note.

Recently, several indicators have pointed to a recovery in the sector and overall economic growth is forecast to grow in double digits for the the current financial year that ends in March.


In a first, IAF lands a Hercules on highway in emergency drill

As a Hercules C-130J aircraft of the Indian Air Force touched down on a 3km stretch on NH 925 near Barmer in a mock emergency landing on Thursday, the country’s first Emergency Landing Facility on a national highway had a flying start. With three Union ministers on board, the mission also paved the way for 19 more ELFs that will come up on highways across the country.

Union defence minister Rajnath Singh and minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari inaugurated the ELF and witnessed aircraft operations on it. Union Jal Shakti minister and Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was also on the flight.

Chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and other officials were present at the inauguration.

“While this is the first-ofits-kind runway in the country, we are working on 19 similar projects. Of these, two more will be in Rajasthan,” said Gadkari.

“By creating a strip so close to the international border, we have sent a message that we will stand up for unity, diversity and sovereignty of our country at any cost,” said Rajnath Singh.

Centre clears ₹11k cr ‘eye in the sky’ project

The government has given the final nod to the mega Rs 10,990 crore indigenous project to build six AEW&C (airborne early-warning and control) aircraft, which are critical in modern warfare as powerful “eyes in the sky”, to bolster the IAF’s surveillance capability along the borders with China and Pakistan.

Sources said the DRDO project, which will entail mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on six Airbus-321 passenger aircraft to be acquired from the existing Air India fleet, was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Wednesday.

Chaired by PM Narendra Modi, the CCS had also cleared the long pending Airbus-Tata project to build 56 C-295 medium transport aircraft at a cost of over Rs 21,000 crore (around $3 billion).

The AEW&C project, which was accorded the initial “acceptance of necessity” by the defence ministry in December last year, is crucial because both Pakistan and China are far ahead of India in this arena. Under the project, the first flight trial of the AEW&C aircraft is now expected to take place in four years, with the entire project being completed in seven years.

IAF currently has just three Israeli Phalcon AWACS mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft, with 360-degree radar coverage at a 400-km range. It also has two indigenous ‘Netra’ AEW&C aircraft, with indigenous 240-degree coverage radars with a 250-km range, fitted on smaller Brazilian Embraer-145 jets.

“The new AEW&C aircraft will be a major upgrade on the Netra in terms of 360-degree coverage and longer range. The narrow-body A-321 planes will be bought from Air India at a much cheaper rate and then modified with the help of Airbus to fit the indigenous radars and other equipment. Their entire maintenance and service will be in India,” said a source.

AEW&C or AWACS aircraft can detect incoming fighters, cruise missiles and drones much before groundbased radars, direct friendly fighters during air combat with enemy jets, and keep tabs on enemy troop buildups and warships. China has around 30 AEW&C aircraft. Pakistan, in turn, has 8-10 Chinese Karakoram Eagle ZDK-03 AWACS and Swedish Saab-2000 AEW&C.

1500-yr-old temple remains found in UP

The ASI has found during routine scrubbing the remains of an ancient temple that dates back to the 5th century CE, the Gupta period, at Bilsarh village in UP’s Etah. The staircase, excavated last month, has Shankhalipi inscriptions which the ASI has now confirmed say ‘Sri Mahendraditya’, the title of the Gupta ruler Kumaragupta I who ruled over what is now north-central India for 40 years.

Bilsarh has been protected since 1928 and was known as an important Gupta period site. “There were two decorative pillars close to one another, with human figurines (found earlier). We excavated further and found the stairs,” said Vasant Swarnkar, superintending archaeologist of ASI’s Agra circle. “We found something written on it in Shankhalipi.” Shankhalipi is an ornate, stylised ancient script, used between the 4th and 8th centuries CE for names and signatures.

The inscription found on the Etah remains had earlier been seen on a horse statue found in Lakhimpur Kheri. It is now at the state museum in Lucknow. But that was not confirmation enough. So, Swarnkar sent images of the inscriptions to noted epigraphist Dr Devendra Handa. At the same time, ASI officials visited Lucknow to go over the horse statue inscription again. Both confirmed it was Shankhalipi.

The Etah remains are only the third structural temple of the Gupta period found so far. “The Guptas were the first to build structural temples for Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain followers. Prior to that, only rock-cut temples were built,” said Prof Manvendra Pundhir from Aligarh Muslim University’s history department. “Before this, only two structural temples were found—Dashavatara in Deogarh and Bhitargaon in Kanpur Dehat. The Etah pillars are well-sculpted, better than the earlier examples in which only lower sections were carved.”

Ford pulls plug on India ops

Americans auto giants don’t seem to get it right when it comes to making cars and motorcycles for Indians. After the exit of General Motors and Harley-Davidson, it’s now the turn of another iconic brand Ford to quit India. Having invested over $2.5 billion in India, and with a presence since 1995, Ford ended 2020-21 selling 48,042 units to garner a 1.8% share of the pie.

The company promised that “restructuring” of its India business — that will see its two plants in Chennai and Sanand shut down by the second quarter of next year — will not mean end of services and after-sales support for the roughly 10-lakh customers it has in the country as its 300-odd dealerships will remain open for service.

“This is a very difficult decision. No matter what we tried and investigated, all our projections show we will continue to give sub-optimal returns to shareholders and investors. There was no other option, but to restructure,” Anurag Mehrotra, MD and president of Ford India, said as he outlined a new strategy that would see the company begin import and sale of “must-have, iconic vehicles”, including Mustang coupe.

Ford said it took the decision after considering several options, including partnerships, platform sharing, contract manufacturing with others and the possibility of selling its manufacturing plants, which is still under consideration. “Despite these efforts, we have not been able to find a sustainable path forward to long-term profitability that includes in-country vehicle manufacturing,” he said.

AAI clears privatisation of 13 additional airports

Days after the government announced its ambitious national monetisation pipeline, the Airports Authority of India board approved the privatisation of 13 more airports by early next year — six major ones and seven smaller ones that will be clubbed with the bigger ones.

Sources say the clubbing (big - small) will be Varanasi with Kushinagar and Gaya, Amritsar with Kangra, Bhubaneswar with Tirupati, Raipur with Aurangabad, Indore with Jabalpur, and Trichy with Hubli.

AAI will now begin the process of preparing bid documents so that the same can be completed by next year. The Buddhist circuit of Varanasi-Kushinagar-Gaya is likely to get significant interest from bidders due to the tourism potential of these cities, apart from Varanasi being a big destination in itself.

The recently announced NMP envisages privatisation of 25 AAI airports with NITI Aayog estimating a monetisation value of Rs 20,782 crore over FY22-25, accounting for 4% of asset monetisation target of Rs 6 lakh crore.

This is the first time that smaller airports are being clubbed with bigger ones, while opting for the PPP mode in which a private player develops and expands airports on revenue share model, while their ownership remains with the government.

The airports being developed and run PPP way so far include those at Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Mangaluru.

Aviation Minister Unveils Policy to Make India a Global MRO Hub

The aviation ministry, under Jyotiraditya Scindia announced a 100-day plan that includes developmental work at airports and policy to promote maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Scindia announced that a new policy aims to make India a global hub for MRO. “Discussions are also going on for convergence between civil and military works with respect to MRO. To boost MRO activities, the government has selected eight airports, including Delhi and Kolkata, for such works and to attract investments,” he said.

Under the new policy, the rate of lease rental would be decided through bidding instead of the current practice of having predetermined AAI (Airports Authority of India) rates. “Also, the rate of escalation for lease rental would be 15% after every three years. At present, the escalation rate is 7.5% to10% per annum. Land will be allotted through open tenders instead of the current practice of allotment on the basis of an entity’s request,” Scindia said.

The MRO industry believes this policy will help strengthen Indian MROs.


Indian wolves most ancient among surviving lineage: Genetic study

Genome sequencing, which determines the genetic makeup, of the Indian wolves has shown that grey wolf populations represent the most ancient surviving lineage among these carnivores. The study conducted in Saswad and Morgaon areas near Pune by the University of California and scientists in India also indicated that the Indian wolf was among the most endangered and its habitat was threatened by human encroachment and land conversion.

The authors sequenced genomes of four Indian and two Tibetan wolves and included 31 additional canid genomes to resolve their evolutionary and phylogenomic history.

They found that Tibetan and Indian wolves are distinct from each other and from other wolf populations. The research is the first to include genomes of all three major wolf lineages, lupus (grey wolves), rufus (red wolves), and lycaon (a subspecies of grey wolf), and provided new insights into the grey wolf’s evolutionary history. The report was published in the journal Molecular Ecology. Other findings suggested that the Indian wolf could be even more basal than the Tibetan wolf, making it the most distantly divergent wolf alive today.

The study emphasized the urgency of conserving Indian wolves whose numbers are fewer than 3,000.

Lead author Lauren Hennelly, a doctoral student with the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Mammalian Ecology Conservation Unit, said wolves are one of the last remaining large carnivores in Pakistan, and that many of India’s large carnivores are endangered.

“Knowing they are so unique and found only here must inspire local people and scientists to learn more about conserving them and their grassland habitats,” she added. Until this study, the evolutionary history of Indian wolves was based on mitochondrial DNA evidence inherited only from the mother. That evidence suggested that the Indian wolf diverged more recently than the Tibetan wolf, Hennelly said. The study used the entire genome — the nuclear DNA containing nearly all of the genes reflecting the wolf’s evolutionary history which showed that the Indian wolf was likely even more divergent than the Tibetan wolf.

“This divergent lineage answers the question that could help their conservation at a policy scale which could trickle down and bolster local efforts to protect these wolves,” Hennelly said.

Maharashtra Cabinet clears Mumbai’s 1st integrated township

The first-ever integrated township in the city will be built on a143-acre Mhada layout, the path for which was cleared by the state cabinet when it approved the Rs 20,000 crore redevelopment plan for Motilal Nagar in Goregaon (west) on Wednesday Housing minister Jitendra Awhad said 33,000 flats will be constructed, adding the redevelopment will be carried out in four phases over 10 years. It will serve as a model for the redevelopment of other Mhada layouts in Mumbai.

Motilal Nagar, the largest layout in the city, was built in 1960 for the economically weaker sections. It has 3,700 tenements, which are ground plus-one structures, and is also home to 1,600 slumdwellers.

Mhada has large layouts in various parts of the city. Many have seen neglect at the hands of Mhada and the government, resulting in largescale encroachments on its open spaces. by residents and political parties.The cabinet approval for the Motilal Nagar plan was needed as the government has now taken over the powers from Mhada to approve all redevelopment in its layouts.

Several redevelopment projects have been languishing for years and residents whose homes were demolished have been living elsewhere without getting rent. While the government received several complaints about it, it could not intervene as there is no tripartite agreement with Mhada. The state housing department recently issued a government resolution that it will be the final authority for issuance of letter of intent for any redevelopment so as to keep a check on matters and ensure speedy redevelopment.

₹21,000 cr Airbus-Tata project for 56 IAF planes cleared

The long-pending Airbus-Tata project to build 56 C-295 transport aircraft, which will replace the old Avro-748 planes of the IAF at a cost of over Rs 21,000 crore ($3 billion), was finally cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security.

While 16 of the twin-turboprop C-295MW aircraft will be delivered in a flyaway condition by Airbus Defence and Space (Spain) within two years of the signing of the actual contract, the rest 40 will be manufactured in India by the Tata Consortium within 10 years.

This will be the first time an Indian private sector company will manufacture a military aircraft, though with transfer of technology from a foreign firm, breaking the virtual monopoly of defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in the field.

The C-295 project, which has been pending for almost a decade, is not only meant to replace the Avro aircraft which were first inducted in the early-1960, the new planes will also take on some “tasks” of the ageing AN-32 fleet. A transport aircraft of 5-10 tonne capacity, the C-295MW has a rear ramp door for quick reaction and para-dropping of troops and cargo. All 56 aircraft will be installed with indigenous electronic warfare suites.

“The project will give a boost to the aerospace ecosystem in India wherein several MSMEs spread over the country will be involved in manufacturing parts of the aircraft. The aircraft can even find some buyers in the civil aviation market at a later stage,” said an official.

Before completion of deliveries, a D-level MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) facility for the C-295MW aircraft is scheduled to be set up in India. It is expected this facility will act as a regional MRO hub for various variants of C-295 aircraft,” said an official.

The Defence Acquisitions Council in May 2015, headed by the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, had first approved the Tata-Airbus project in what was seen to be a bold move after the previous UPA regime had developed cold feet under strong pressure from the PSU lobby.

Another worry was that the Tata-Airbus project had emerged as the “single vendor” in the fray. But the government held the Tata-Airbus consortium’s technical and commercial bids had been submitted in a competitive environment, even though the other seven contenders had backed out for one reason or the other. It has taken over six years since then for the final nod by the CCS now.

4 theatre commands: Groundwork begins

India has finally kicked off the actual groundwork for creation of four theatre commands, with four senior three-star generals being tasked to work out the structures in them to build an integrated war-fighting machinery.

The integrated maritime theatre command,  air defence command, and two land-based commands for Pakistan and China, will all take concrete shape in the next “two to three years”.

The western theatre command will have its headquarters at Jaipur, while the MTC will come up in Karwar. The eastern theatre command will be based either at Kolkata or Lucknow, with the ADC at Gandhinagar or Allahabad.

Four existing commanders-in-chief (two Lt-Generals, a Vice Admiral and an Air Marshal) have been “nominated to work out and raise the structures” of the new tri-service commands with the help of officers from other services, in addition to their existing responsibilities.

“Having been dual-tasked, the four have started their work. The Army’s South Western Command chief (Lt-Gen Amardeep Singh Bhinder), for instance, has been asked to work out the modalities for the WTC. The new theatre commanders will only be appointed once the structures are in place,” said a source.

The theatre commands, once they are up and running, will first take over the “operational role” of the single-service commands under them. At present, India has as many as 17 single-service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), which have very little synergy in planning and operations.

The single-service commands will gradually be phased out, with their other functions like logistics and training being progressively handed over to the new theatre commands. As of now, the Army’s existing Udhampur-based Northern Command, which looks after counter-terrorism operations in J&K, and the fronts with China in Ladakh and Kargil with Pakistan, is being left untouched due to its unique role.

The joint commands have been slightly delayed due to the strong objections of the IAF, which contends it will be operationally unwise to divide its “limited air assets” among different theatres. But the government is now resolutely moving ahead with the joint commands, which will place the assets and manpower of the Army, Navy and IAF under one operational commander in each theatre, in what will be the most far-reaching restructuring of the over 15-lakh strong armed forces since Independence.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh himself recently described the decision as “another major structural reform” that was progressing rapidly. “With the formation of theatre commands, the armed forces will also have to develop integrated operational concepts and doctrines to fight jointly,” he said.

Asked about the IAF’s objections, the sources said “there will be winners and losers” whenever a transformational change is undertaken. “India does not have the luxury of surplus today. We have to operate in a joint manner with whatever we have,” said a source.


Indians among least socially mindful

When it comes to “social mindfulness”, Japanese are the most conscious of how their actions will affect others (strangers they don’t know), while Indians are among the three nationalities at the bottom; they are least likely to show such concern even when there is no personal cost involved, a study of 31 countries has found.

While Japanese made socially mindful decisions 72% of the time, followed by Austrians (69%) and Mexicans (68%), participants in Indonesia the lowest ranked country took such decisions 46% of the time; the figure stood at 47% for Turkey and 50% for India, according to the research published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, last week.

Most research on human cooperation is based on tasks that require some real effort or investment that makes regard for others come at a cost. But what about small gestures that take no effort, such as letting someone pass on a sidewalk?

The researchers found that social mindfulness, in other words, cooperative interpersonal behaviour in which individuals consider others’ needs and perspectives, differed significantly in cross-national research.

Participants from China made considerate choices 62% of the time while the figure stood at 58% for those in the US and 64% for the United Kingdom. Canada, often touted as the “politest country in the world”, was also among the low-scoring countries at 57%.

“Many daily acts of cooperation require very little effort. Yet, most research on human cooperation has been on costly behaviour like spending time or money. Less was known about socially mindful behaviours that take hardly any effort,” first author Niels Van Doesum, assistant professor of social psychology at Leiden University, The Netherlands said.

“It’s important to not attach any value judgments to the ranking. What’s important here is that we found differences in social mindfulness at the country level which had not been studied. We are still far from explaining the differences. Further research is needed to find answers,” Van Doesum said. The researchers designed 12 hypothetical choices for 8,354 participants in the study.

The results showed significant differences between individuals and between countries.

Last 10cr vax doses given in just 13 days

With improved supplies helping the government accelerate the pace of Covid-19 vaccination, India administered the latest 10 crore doses in just13 days, taking the total to more than 70 crore. Significantly, on three days, the tally crossed 1 crore doses.

Covid vaccine delivery had gone up from 50 crore to 60 crore doses in 19 days. With the recent rise in vaccinations, the shots delivered per100 people is also looking respectable at 49.4.

Around 72.4 lakh people were vaccinated till 8pm on Tuesday, after India crossed the 1-crore mark the day before. Though a majority of the doses are being administered in rural areas, the coverage has improved in urban areas over the past few weeks. The coverage of second shots has increased in several states, even as expansion of the overall vaccination programme is being driven by the first dose, a senior official said. The graph of first doses is rising sharply.

Overall, people in the age group of 18-44 account for 50% of the total 70.61 crore doses administered so far, whereas nearly 30% have been given to those aged 45-60. The remaining have been received by those above 60 years.

In terms of coverage, those between 45-60 account for maximum coverage of first dose at around 66%, whereas the coverage of second dose is maximum among people above 60 years, with around 33.5% being fully vaccinated. In the age band of 18-44, around 44.6% has received at least one dose, whereas only 5.6% got both doses.

The central government has asked states and UTs to ramp up vaccination, particularly in people above 60. Besides,it has stressed on the need to ensure that all those eligible for second dose of anti-Covid jabs be covered within the stipulated time frame.

Overall, 57% of the estimated 94 crore adult population has received at least one dose so far, whereas17.6% has got both.

Pune: Eastern ring road land measurement work begins

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation has started the land measurement work for the proposed eastern ring road project in Purandar tehsil.

The state organisation has so measured land at five villages in Purandar tehsil. It has completed 98% of land measurement work for the proposed western ring road project.

MSRDC executive engineer Sandeep Patil said the authorities wanted to complete the land survey for the eastern ring road by December. “We are calculating valuations of the land that will be acquired for the western ring road. The state government has stated that the compensation will be given to the farmers on the line of the Samruddhi Mumbai-Nagpur highway project. As a result, the farmers are likely to get almost five times more than the existing rates. This will make the land acquisition process smooth.”

The 69km proposed western ring road and the 105km proposed eastern ring road are crucial to the new ring road plan around Pune and PImpri Chinchwad.


Axis Bank diversity charter to empower staff, clients

Axis Bank has taken several HR measures to bring equality to employees and customers from the LGBTQIA+ community as part of its strategy to promote diversity and inclusion.

The private lender announced a ‘ComeAsYouAre’ charter of policies and practices that will apply to those within the organisation and customers. The bank said that this charter is in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court verdict on September 6, 2018 on Section 377, which ruled that all sexual relationships between consenting adults in private should be decriminalised.

While multinational banks have already in place a diversity charter in keeping with their global practices, Axis Bank is the first among domestic lenders to publicly announce a charter. Under this charter, employees can list their partners for mediclaim benefits irrespective of gender, sex or marital status. Employees can dress following their gender or gender expression.

“We recognise that employees could have gender or gender expression that’s different from their sex assigned at birth. They can choose to dress in accordance with their gender/gender expression,” the bank said. Employees can also choose to use the restroom of their choice following their gender expression/gender identity.

For customers, the bank has allowed the opening of savings accounts with their same-sex partners and choose them as their nominees. Customers who are gender non-binary, gender fluid or transgender persons will have the option of choosing their title from the option of ‘Mx’ in their savings or term deposit account.

India’s mcap up over 2x in 18 months

The strong bull rally that had started in late-March 2020, when global investors’ fear about the pandemic was at its peak, has taken India’s market cap to over the $3.5-trillion mark now — more than double from about $1.3 trillion then. Several factors have contributed to this record-breaking rally in global markets, including in India. These include the unprecedented amount of fund infusions by almost all the central banks to support their respective economies, record low interest rate in most of the large markets, and investors’ urge to channelise their savings in the absence of lack of spending opportunities during the pandemic months.

Official data showed that so far in 2021, both the sensex and Nifty have rallied to fresh life-high marks around 40 times each. However, the Indian benchmarks still lag their US peers. For example, the corresponding number for the S&P500 index is 54 times.

Last month, the rally got another boost after the US Fed chief said that it was unlikely to raise interest rates in a hurry. As a result, the sensex added nearly 5,000 points, or 9.4%, making India the best performing stock market in the world.

Domestically, the biggest booster to investors’ wealth during the current rally since March 2020, as measured by the BSE’s market capitalisation, came from Reliance Industries that saw its market value jump by $134 billion to $210 billion now. The other significant wealth-creators are TCS, up $110 billion to $191 billion, and Infosys — up $70 billion to $110 billion now, official data showed.

According to a report by Motilal Oswal Financial Services, the markets are scaling new highs led by strong earnings delivery, benign liquidity and buoyant sentiments. “Good earnings delivery (during first quarter of fiscal 2022) has boosted hopes for a solid FY22 with 30%+ projected Nifty earnings growth, on the back of a strong 15% earnings growth in FY21,” it noted. In addition to strong corporate earnings, a stable currency that’s been showing an appreciating trend in the past two weeks also attracted foreign funds into Indian markets with the net buying for 2021 at over Rs 55,000 crore, data from CDSL showed.

In future, management commentaries across the board suggest an improved demand environment after June 2021, led by easing of restrictions, lower active Covid cases, and a pickup in vaccinations, the report by MOFSL noted.

Maharashtra plans Konkan Expressway

The public works department, led by senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan, has drafted an ambitious Rs 70,000 crore plan for construction of a 400km road connecting Mumbai to Sindhudurg via Raigad and Ratnagiri. Once completed, the project will cut Mumbai-Sindhudurg travel to three hours, against the existing six to seven hours.

As per an order on the website of the public works department on September 6, the government had asked the state road development corporation MSRDC to prepare a detailed project report last year. The proposal was approved by the high-level infrastructure committee headed by the CM on August 25.

The project, to be called the Greenfield Konkan Expressway, is estimated to cost Rs 70,000 crore. The detailed project report is expected to be completed in two years. It will take another four years to complete the project, which will require 4,000 hectares of land,” a senior bureaucrat said.

The bureaucrat pointed out that the Greenfield Konkan Expressway is planned on the lines of the Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samrudhi Marg that will connect Nagpur with Mumbai. “The project was discussed in both houses of the state legislature, and it was proposed that the project should be entrusted with the MSRDC, given its expertise in the area. The project is aimed at further developing the Konkan region,” said the bureaucrat.

Mumbai is the commercial and financial capital of India, but the Konkan region, despite its proximity to the city, has witnessed meagre development on account of poor transport and communication network. “Several people from the Konkan region are moving to Mumbai in search of livelihood. The Konkan Expressway will contribute to the development of the region in a big way,” he said.


India : 14th among populous nations in doses/100 people

While India’s vaccination drive accelerated in August, it still has some catching-up to do in terms of total doses per 100 people. Among the 29 countries with populations of over 50 million, it ranks 14. As for percentage of population fully vaccinated, it’s at No 17. On both counts, almost all the countries with lower levels have been much less badly hit by Covid-19, with Iran and South Africa being the two exceptions.

The global vaccination average is 68.4 doses per 100 people, against 47.5 per 100 in India, the world’s leading manufacturer of vaccines. China and UK top the list along with several European countries but there are developing countries like Brazil, Colombia and Mexico that have also done better. India’s rank among the 30 countries in terms of doses per 100 people has remained unchanged since mid-June.

In terms of the number of vaccinated or fully vaccinated people per 100, 16 of these nations have done better. On this ranking, India has slid two ranks since mid-June with the Philippines and Thailand creeping ahead.

Most populous countries that are below India in vaccination coverage are also far less affected by the pandemic with very low cases per million. None have Covid vaccine manufacturing facilities supplying them with vaccines yet. The exceptions are South Africa and Iran, which have suffered more Covid cases and deaths per million than India.

Centre Signs Karbi Peace Accord

The Centre signed a tripartite ‘Karbi Peace Accord’ with Assam government, Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and Karbi outfits, and announced a ₹1,000-crore package for development of the region and rehabilitation of former rebels.

The accord is expected to mark an end to years of armed insurgency by various factions and splinter groups of Karbi – a major ethnic community of Assam –marked by killings, ethnic violence, abductions and taxation since the late1980s.

“Today, around 1,000 cadres of more than five organisations have joined the mainstream, shunning arms,” home minister Amit Shah said. “Central and Assam governments are fully committed to their rehabilitation,” he said.

Shah said the Karbi Agreement is another milestone in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “insurgency-free prosperous North East”. “It is the policy of the Modi government that those who give up arms are brought into the mainstream and we talk to them even more politely and give them more than they ask for,” Shah said.

He said the government has met more than 80% of the conditions of peace agreements with various ethnic groups in the Northeast, “be it Bodoland, Bru agreement or NLFT (National Liberation Front of Tripura) agreement”.

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “Only unresolved issues are related to language. People from Karbi Anglong want their language to be recognised and declared as an associate language in Assam. We have sought six months’ time and will discuss the issue in an environment of dialogue and consultations. The accord will help people from the hills and those staying in plains to get reservations, for the first time.”

As per the accord, the number of seats in the autonomous council is being increased from 30 to 50. Sarma said 34 seats will be reserved for scheduled tribes while six members in the council will be nominated by the governor.

The memorandum of settlement will ensure greater devolution of autonomy to KAAC, protection of identity, language, culture, etc. of Karbi people and focused development of the council area, without affecting the territorial and administrative integrity of Assam, he said.

Centre slashes prices of 39 drugs

Revising the ‘National List of Essential Medicines’, the central government has slashed the prices of 39 commonly used drugs.

The prices were slashed for the anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, antiviral, antibacterial, antiretroviral, anti-TB drugs, and also for some that are used in COVID treatment.

The experts working on the NLEM list have deleted 16 odd drugs from the list.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has been working for a long time to extend price control on medicines.

The commonly used drugs, which were brought under the price cap includes Teneligliptin — an antidiabetes drug, popular anti-TB drugs, Ivermectin — used in COVID treatment, Rotavirus vaccine, among others.

The government had begun an exercise for the revision of the National List of Essential Medicines, which was notified in 2015 and implemented in 2016.

It is a departure from the present practice, where all essential medicines automatically go under price control.

The standing national committee on Medicines was tasked with preparing the list of which medicines should be available in adequate numbers and assured quantity.

The committee headed by Balram Bhargava, secretary in the department of health research and director general of the ICMR, send the list to a second committee comprising senior officials from NITI Aayog, health secretary and secretary in the department of pharmaceuticals, which decides on which drugs are to be put under the price cap.


Will partner with Moscow to develop Russian Far East: PM

PM Narendra Modi Friday reiterated India’s commitment, as part of its Act East Policy, to work as a reliable partner of Russia in President Vladimir Putin’s vision for development of the Russian Far East. Addressing the sixth Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Modi stressed on the importance of greater economic and commercial engagement between the two sides in line with the ‘Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership’.

The friendship between India and Russia has stood the test of time, said Modi. “Most recently it was seen in our robust cooperation during the Covid-19 pandemic including in the area of vaccines. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the health and pharma sectors in our bilateral cooperation,” he said.

Expressing happiness that the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor is making headway, Modi said this connectivity project will bring India and Russia physically closer. 

August 2021: Services PMI rise to 56.7

Activity in the country’s crucial services sector rebounded in August and expanded at its fastest pace in 18 months as the pandemic receded, vaccine access improved and restrictions were being lifted across the country, a survey showed on Friday. At 56.7 in August, up from 45.4 in July, the India Services Business Activity Index was above the 50.0 neutral threshold for the first time in four months.

Companies indicated that the reopening of several establishments and increased consumer footfall boosted sales, which in turn supported the first expansion in output in four months and a rebound in business confidence. The data showed that firms had ample capacity to deal with rising new orders, however, which was a factor that prevented job creation, according to the IHS Markit India Services PMI. The survey is compiled from responses to questionnaires sent to a panel of around 400 service sector companies.

The services sector had been hit hard by the pandemic as the curbs imposed to prevent the spread of the virus prompted businesses to shut down.


Delhi ITO To Mathura Road: Glide Down Under

The Pragati Maidan tunnel along with three underpasses near Delhi Public School, Mathura Road, Kaka Nagar and Bhairon Marg are likely to be opened for traffic by November. Trials are expected to be held in October, a PWD official has revealed.

The completion of the Pragati Maidan corridor improvement project will allow signal-free movement on the 3.5-km stretch between ITO and DPS, Mathura Road. The PWD official said that both the underpasses being constructed near DPS and Kaka Nagar will be opened to traffic soon along with the1.2-km tunnel going below Pragati Maidan from Mathura Road to Ring Road. Work on the tunnel portion below the railway line is pending but will be completed soon, the official confided.

The corridor improvement plan, work on which began in 2017, comprises the tunnel and six underpasses. It seeks to decongest Mathura Road, Bhairon Road and Mahatma Gandhi Marg. PWD plans to operationalise four of these six tunnels by October. “The civil work is on the verge of completion, particularly on the underpasses near Matka Peer and Supreme Court. As soon as we get some respite from the rains, we will begin the final push,” the official said.

PWD will also construct a service lane along Mathura Road before the trial run. With the Ashram underpass also nearing completion, the stretch between Ashram and ITO is likely to be decongested by the year-end.

“The trials for two underpasses, the main tunnel and the Bhairon Marg tunnel will run till October-end. Atter Delhi traffic police gives its approval, the road safety audit will be carried out and the entire process is likely to be completed by November,” the PWD official said.

The centrepiece of the corridor improvement is the sixlane tunnel running below Pragati Maidan and connecting Mathura Road with Ring Road. It is expected to take the pressure off the intersections at ITO (used by up to 62,000 passenger car units daily) and Bhairon Marg (57,000 cars daily). A chunk of the eastbound traffic will use this tunnel for a quicker getaway.

With Mathura Road also becoming signal-free, peak hours will no longer look so daunting. The main beneficiaries will be commuters going to east Delhi from south and Lutyens’ Delhi via India Gate and ITO. Vehicles going to south Delhi from ITO will also have access to the tunnel from Mathura Road, a muchneeded alternative to Bhairon Marg, especially during peak hours. As a consequence, this will greatly reduce traffic at the ITO crossing.

Army to buy 100+ drones for Balakot-like hits

The army, under the emergency procurement powers, has signed a contract to purchase more than 100 explosive-laden drones to be used as ‘force multipliers’ in Balakot-like missions in the future. The drones will have a range of about 100km.

The army’s requirement of “loitering munition” will be fulfilled by ‘SkyStriker’ drones, to be made and supplied by Bengaluru-based Alpha Design, in a joint venture with Israeli’s Elbit Security Systems. The contract signed on Wednesday is worth around Rs 100 crore.

According to Elbit’s website, SkyStriker is a cost-effective loitering munition capable of long-range precise tactical strikes. “The drone improves performance, situational awareness and survivability by providing direct-fire aerial-precision capabilities to manoeuverable troops and special forces,” it says.

PM seeks list of infra projects delayed due to court verdicts

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed government departments to prepare a list of infrastructure projects delayed due to different decisions of courts and tribunals and asked them to also assess the losses incurred to the exchequer by such time overruns.

The PM’s direction came at the last meeting of the Pragati where he reviewed progress of eight infrastructure projects— six rail and road projects (three each) and two relating to the power sector.

The minutes of the Pragati meeting held on August 25 with regard to the Bhanupali-Bilaspur-Beri New Rail Line project says, “Environment and forest, railways and road transport and highways ministries in consultation with law and justice ministry should identify decisions of courts, NGT etc., related to land acquisition, forest or other clearances which are causing delay in infrastructure project. The cabinet secretary should monitor such exercise. A list of delayed projects due to court decisions, including loss incurred to the exchequer, may also be prepared.”

Several infrastructure projects have been held up across the country due to pending court cases over land acquisition and environmental issues like the Char Dham highway project in Uttarakhand.

The PM also directed the railway ministry to devise a hybrid system while planning and building rail tunnels in hilly areas so that road tunnels can also be built together. Sources said this integration will reduce project cost. Earlier, the PM had directed both the road and railway ministries to work together on this aspect while chairing a review of infrastructure sectors.

The minutes also mention that a list of projects delayed substantially should be prepared and those responsible identified. “The cabinet secretary should prepare a list of projects which are delayed substantially and identify responsible authorities, agencies and officials for such delay. The list may be submitted within a week,” the minutes said.

Sources said though timely completion of infrastructure projects has been the focus of the government, this has become all the more important with the Centre setting an ambitious target to monetise completed projects. For example, the projection to monetise 26,700 km of completed NHs by 2025 to generate Rs 1.6 lakh crore is based on the stretches that are scheduled for completion over the next three years.

The government has also set up an informal group of ministers to monitor progress with regard to the decisions taken at Pragati meetings.